9/11 Ken Burns Mohammad Ali Mom Mindstir Media book JJHebert

On September 11, 2021, I made available a 5 hour, minute by minute  presentation of the events of 20 years ago here on the site. It was produced by my staff at Power 96, Miami with the whole project under the direction of Jason “Mini Mixx” Garte. Originally, we played the recreation on the one year anniversary of the worst foreign enemy attack on American soil since the war of 1812.

I listened to the entire project for the first time in 20 years. Hearing the voices of Miami citizens reflect on the events of that day was mesmerizing. Many were in their cars listening to Power 96 on the way to school and work. Others were just waking up and had turned the TV on. 

At the beginning of the third hour, with my own voice announcing the planes departing from major metropolitan areas, the memories came flooding back. The Power 96 morning show, headed by the late Bo Griffin, was monitoring The Today show. As soon as Matt and friends began making reference to “it seems a plane has crashed into the World Trade Center tower,” Bo broke the format and began covering the event. I remembered the chaos in our control room and how the concern in the voices of Bo’s crew was clear. Bo, Mark and Caroline struggled as they tried describing what they were witnessing on Television to their Radio audience. The obvious shock and gasp happened “live” when the second plane hit. 

Describing the 5 hour feature is useless. Find some time and click the “Listen” tab.

The 2021 harvest moon week arrived on what would have been my parents 70th anniversary and is the 21st for my wife and I. My dad, a 20 year US Navy and Korean War vet, passed away over 20 years ago. My mother is 88 years old and lives in a full care facility as she can’t hold a memory for longer than 10 seconds. It’s painful watching her struggle to remember friends, nurses, former homes and, at times, even me.

Our visits have been speratiac since the Pandemic and it’s been months since our last. Along with my big sister, my little sis and her husband joined my wife and I for the pandemic restricted hour of conversation that took off in every direction and none of it connected.

When my wife and I arrived, my big sister was already sitting with my mom under the backyard Gazebo. As we came down the sidewalk, my sis announced, “Here comes Kim and Elizabeth!” 

Mom said, “I recognize her but I don’t know who he is.” She was joking…I assume. 

Throughout my life, my mother has often been quick with humor. I was 8 years old in 1963 when, during a Sunday potluck dinner at her beloved Church of Christ, a quiet moment in the preacher’s prayer was interrupted when my mother burped. It was a loud one. She brought the congregation to a laugh when she said, “Pardon the Pig, I always say!”

During a phone conversation in 1977, while telling her about my new apartment, she suddenly changed the conversation to the Swine Flu outbreak. “You’ll  know if you have the disease, when you have an insatiable urge to screw a pig in the mud.”  That was the first time I heard my mother say “screw” anything. 

While we sat under the Gazebo, there was a metal “lightning” defuser on the corner of the roof on the house next to where my family gathered. My mother thought it was a bird, “It hasn’t moved for 20 minutes, it’s just sitting there looking at us.” I told her that even birds like to listen to her stories. 

She asked me, “Did you ever do anything with your life? Did you ever get a job?” She kills me. 

“Yes mother, I did have a big radio career. You and dad visited me in San Antonio, Washington, D.C., Baltimore and Miami and I took you to the radio station to give you tours?” No response, as expected. 

To my wife, my mother said, “But, I sure loved that house you two had in Miami.” ” 

“It was a nice house, Shari. It was a very nice house”.

“That bird is still looking at us, it’s been almost an hour!!”

Then, my mom said, “I think my head is shrinking.” 

“Why’s that mother?”

“Well, I can’t keep my glasses on my head.”

My little sister said, “Your hair is getting pretty thin mom.” 

“Nope, it’s shrinking.”

My mother suddenly turned to my big sister, “Do you have any pull around here?” We all laughed.

“What kind of pull do I need, mother?” My mom responded, “Can you get me a steak?” We knew it was getting close to lunchtime.

I hate that her brain failing but my mother is almost always in a good mood. She does become confused, frustrated and depressed at times. Those emotions can disappear with a simple mention of her mom, dad or even the little dog she grew up with, Tink. 

“My mother came to visit me today.”

“Did she bring TInk?”

My mother looked away and smiled, “Of course! She’s such a good dog” 

I’m in a wheelchair and can’t stand without assistance from my wife. I stood to hug my mom before we left and the return hug was strong. Her brain is failing but her physical health is not. We’ll be back soon.

Ken Burns on Mohammad Ali

Is documentarian Ken Burns America’s greatest storyteller? Ever since his original, The Civil War, I’ve seen most of his work and have always walked away feeling more informed and educated. I was excited to learn he’d be examining the life of the greatest Heavyweight Boxing Champion in American history, Mohammad Ali.

My first knowledge of “Cassius Clay” was February 25th, 1964. I was 8 years old but still have vivid memories of that night. My dad took me to  a Cub Scout meeting in the lunchroom at Highland Park Elementary school in Pueblo, Colorado. Our troop leader had us Scouts gathered around lunch tables as she handed out the blocks of wood we were to use to carve out cars for the upcoming, fabled “Soapbox Derby” which was just weeks away.

While me and the other scouts studied our blocks of wood and boasted loudly how we were going to carve the “winning car,” I remember looking at the dads gathered a few tables away and they were listening to a transistor radio. My dad told me that he and the other dads would be listening to the fight between the then Heavyweight Champion of the world, Sonny Liston and contender, Cassius Clay. 

At the time, Champion Sonny Liston lived in Denver and trained at the Colorado State Penitentiary, about 30 miles from Pueblo. It was a well known fact and even I was a young Sonny Liston fan.

I’m not sure if it was a live broadcast or the dads were getting round by round reports on the radio but everyone seemed happy in the beginning. By the end of the fight, I remember a different feeling in the room. The men were angry. Liston had lost the fight and they didn’t like the man he lost to, it the general consensus of all the dads gathered around the radio, including my father. That night was the first time I’d heard the hateful phrase, “Uppity N-word.” A lot of people didn’t like the braggadocious Cassius Clayback then, even after becoming the Heavyweight Champion of the world. 

There came a time in America when the hate toward Clay turned to love for Mohammad Ali. I remember discussing with my dad over the years of Ali’s reign over the fight game and eventually, it was obvious to me, my father was a Mohammed Ali fan.

Fast forward to the year 2000. I was in LA for a radio convention and a friend had front row seats at the Oscar de la Hoya vs Sugar Shane Mosley fight at the Staples Center. Here’s what I remember from that night: During pre fight announcements, I scanned the crowd to my left and made eye contact with actress Selma Hayek and we shared a smile.

In between rounds, I stood to look at the wall-to-wall crowd and when I turned around, former World Heavyweight Champion Mohammad Ali sat behind me, about 5 rows. My heart sank. Why did I have better seats than The Greatest of All Time? 

I sat back down in my chair and pulled out my cell phone to call my father. “Dad, I’m at the Staples Center for the big fight and I’m sitting in the front row. When I stood up to look at the crowd, Mohammad Ali was sitting about 5 rows behind me.”

Without hesitation, my father said: “Get up and offer him your seat.” Doing that would have been impossible with all  his entourage and all that was going on but I loved hearing my dad tell me to, “Get up…”  I’ll finish the documentary and have more in my next blog.

My next book

As a writer, you want someone to read your prose and be moved. My latest novel, “Bonnie’s Law, The Return to Fairness” has garnered the attention of Amazon bestselling author, J.J. Hebert. He and his Mindstir Media company are helping put together my project and will work with me on the promotion of the book. Stay tuned!
¡Viva Cuba!